Experience: Self-isolation and polyamory in the face of the coronavirus

Apr 6 2020, 10:47 am

All names in this article have been changed at the request of the author and those involved. 

I moved in with my boyfriend and his wife this week to isolate with them during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Let me back up and explain that: I am polyamorous.

I have a consistent partner, my boyfriend Dylan. We’ve been dating for almost a year. Dylan has been married to Maddy for 11 years, and has another girlfriend, Jess, who he’s been seeing for over two.

Maddy has a partner named Aaron that she’s been seeing for over two years, and Aaron has a long-term partner he lives with named Tanya — we all get along pretty well. We’re a big, odd, amazing family that we all continually choose to be a part of.

Confused yet?

“It’s complicated” doesn’t begin to explain the wide web of partners, cohorts, and beloved friends that I have in my life. We’ve celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all of our birthdays together. Our lifestyle is a little misunderstood, plagued by bad publicity and some predatory people using the word “polyamorous” to justify abuse.

But I’ve never felt anything but loved in this group. Dylan and Maddy take extra care to make me an equal partner. They (and their other partners) added me into discussions about buying a house together, they support my writing and schoolwork, and they’re a big part of my mental health support system.

So when the coronavirus pandemic started to affect Alberta and isolation measures were announced, we knew we had to have a big discussion. We arrived at a system of co-isolation that involved me moving into Maddy and Dylan’s studio apartment with them for the foreseeable future.

Here’s why:

We needed to protect one of our own

Maddy is in the high risk category. She’s on blood thinners and has a few conditions that mean she would be extremely vulnerable if she contracted the novel coronavirus. Dylan, Aaron, Tanya, Jess, and I were all walking infection risks.

We wanted to maintain our relationships

If we followed the rules exactly, I wouldn’t be able to see Dylan, Dylan wouldn’t be able to see Jess, and Maddy wouldn’t be able to see Aaron. This was a problem because we all rely on each other for support and affection. That’s why we’re poly; we love our partners and want to support them to the fullest extent. All of them. Full stop.

I was a higher infection risk than the others

In the time before the pandemic, I lived with an ER nurse. That meant it felt like it was only a matter of time before my roommate got infected, exposing me to the virus. If that had happened, there was no guarantee that I would be able to see Dylan, Maddy, or the rest of the group before a vaccine was developed.

We undertook some rigorous sanitizing procedures in the meantime: everything coming into Maddy and Dylan’s apartment was sanitized, hands washed, and every person had a shower and a clean set of clothes to change into. But the risk was still there.

It is recommended (kind of)

Then we saw Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s update on March 25. Dr. Hinshaw laid out a possible plan for two cohort families to co-isolate. This would allow kids to play together, and parents to connect and support each other.

Why wouldn’t it work for us? We all have no children, but we wanted to remain connected to each other. Despite Maddy being high-risk, we felt that co-isolating with Aaron and Tanya, with appropriate sanitizing procedures, would be the best possible scenario in a very scary time.

So I packed a suitcase and supplies, said goodbye to my roommate, and took over a corner of Dylan and Maddy’s living room.

Maddy spends part of the week at Aaron’s and Dylan still sees Jess, so it’s not too crowded. We make it work.

Like any relationship, we put in the time and effort to communicate, compromise, and support each other. We just have a lot more people to do all that with.

This kind of thing (co-isolation or polyamory) doesn’t work for everyone. It can be hard, complicated, and messy.

But sometimes it works, and if you can bunk down with the people you love in a time of isolation and panic, you may be all the healthier because of it.